I will never forget my first ever gorilla trekking adventure. For me the experience was heightened by leading a group tour which included a very special man. A man who we affectionately called ‘Jungle Bob’ because he had been through the Amazon and was basically awesome. What made Bob even more special was that he was taking his first gorilla trek at the age of 88. Gorilla trekking, was in fact the very last item
Bob had to tick off his bucket list. No pressure then…..
Although I was escorting this particular group tour
, I had never actually been gorilla trekking before, so Bob and I both set off with equal excitement and trepidation. Bob had turned up with the full insect repellent safari gear, looking a regular G.I. Joe and putting the rest of us to shame in our scruffy outfits.
We hired a team of porters – heck they only charge $15. We felt sorry for the ones not hired that day so took the whole team of 10! Bob freely admitted he needed some support, but refused steadfastly to be carried. So off we set into the forest with a bunch of happy porters on each side.
Gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
We hiked at a steady pace through the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
, but took breaks often to allow Bob (and the rest of us) to catch our breath. The scenery was amazing so stopping gave us time to appreciate the views. We were a team and the camaraderie made the experience all the more enjoyable. I recall on another gorilla trekking expedition in Uganda
I played the song ‘uptown funk’ on the speaker on the return leg. We all started singing with the porters as we hiked – a hilarious moment. I wonder if the gorillas heard us and covered their ears!.
After 1.5 hours of trekking, the ranger suddenly turned and told us to keep quiet. We were instructed to leave our bags with the porters and only two porters joined Bob to assist him. As we climbed a short hill where we were told the mountain gorillas were “waiting” on the other side.
Face to face with a Silverback Mountain Gorilla
I dropped my bag faster than lightening and was up that hill like a rocket, all tiredness forgotten. I was first over the clearing and immediately saw the huge silverback, my first ever mountain gorilla sighting! It was the big guy himself, casually making his way to a cozy spot to watch us from. Of course he heard us coming and was getting into position to keep an eye on the intruders.
We came down the hill to a clearing where the gorillas were eating. They were scattered around and we all separated into sub-groups to look at different individuals. Some playing, some sleeping, the big guy watching us. I was at the back now and I crouched down into the bush and was rewarded by a mother and baby (on her back) walking right past me. They were so close I could reach out and touch them if I had wanted. She must have thought the tourists were all ahead and seemed surprised to see me as well. It was my own private moment. I barely managed to point the camera because for a few minutes I just wanted to savour it and watch her.
Bucket list completed….. almost!
After the most amazing gorilla trekking encounter we stopped for lunch in the forest, quietly eating our snacks as we downloaded our experience. We were in shock and a bit sad it was over but as I sat next to Bob on the floor and looked over at him, I will never forget his face and the look of sheer joy and “I-DID-IT” expression. His last item on the bucket list had been ticked off in style and he made it all on his own.
Needless to say we shared a few G&T’s on the return to our lodge and raised a glass to Bob. We all toasted him for being a total inspiration to us all. He just said “Yeah, it was great, but I should have done it in my 70’s, it would have been easier.”
The funniest thing was that since we kept in touch, he sent me this picture. It turns out he still had one more thing to tick off that list…. a Sky Dive! What a guy.